What is the Land Rover Discovery?
For three decades the Land Rover Discovery family has sat in the middle of the British SUV brand’s range combining elements of the rugged, go-anywhere Defender range below it and the luxurious suite of Range Rover-badged models above.
Available to order from the end of 2016 with deliveries beginning the following spring, the current-generation Discovery has proven to be Land Rover’s most controversial model to date, primarily because of how it looks.
Given the growth of SUVs since the original Discovery’s launch in 1989, the latest model is not short of competition in the forms of premium-badged alternatives such as the Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE and Volvo XC90, to more traditional off-roaders along the lines of the Mitsubishi Shogun and Toyota Land Cruiser.
Rather than being a single range within the marque’s line-up the name is also applied to the more compact Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Depending upon your rationale – ours is illustrated in the model history section – the present model (L462 if you’re into internal codenames) is either the fourth, fifth or even sixth generation of car to wear the Discovery badge.
Regardless of that, today’s Land Rover Discovery SUV follows – on paper, at least – a formula that’s been present almost since the moment the first model debuted: it’s a five-door SUV, with up to seven seats, four-wheel drive and the ability to traverse incredibly difficult terrain without complaint.
Long-gone are the big V8-engined Discoverys – today’s models are offered in four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol and diesel form, with a six-cylinder Sd6 3.0-litre diesel crowning the range. The supercharged Si6 3.0-litre petrol and Td6 diesel were discontinued in 2018.
All versions have automatic gearboxes and a sophisticated four-wheel drive system, combined with various drive modes (Terrain Response 2) for different surfaces and air suspension to make tackling rocky terrain even easier.
It’s not as utilitarian inside as earlier iterations, either – S, SE, HSE and HSE Luxury trim levels are available, the pricier ones offering levels of plushness approaching the Range Rover.
If your needs are more of a van-like variety, Land Rover also sells the go-anywhere Discovery Commercial.
Strip away the L462-generation Discovery’s bodywork and you’ll find a cutting-edge platform that’s related to the more luxurious Range Rover Sport and flagship Range Rover. It’s aluminium-intensive, making it much lighter than the Discovery it replaced, and it’s the first generation to have a monocoque construction, where the body structure and the underpinnings are a single fabrication.
Where the Discovery seems to be having issues relates to its exterior styling. Previous generations have been stout and upright, but the current iteration is softer, more reclined and consequently looks less purposeful.
What’s particularly divisive is the styling of the abruptly vertical tail: there’s a nod to the split tailgate of the previous-generation with a vestigial drop-down boot-flap, but it’s the offset number plate that causes the consternation. Whether it remains as it is come the Discovery’s mid-life facelift remains to be seen.
Long gone are the days when cars which proved surpreme off-road wallowed and listed about as soon as you hauled them onto asphalt, and the Discovery epitomizes this new breed well.
There is little cross country that will cause a Discovery driver to turn around and retreat such is its imperious agility, but on-road it proves to be remarkably stable and comfortable. There’s a surprise, too: point the Discovery at a series of sweeping bends and it faithfully goes exactly where you point it, with minimal bodyroll in spite of its height and bulk.
Peruse the Land Rover price list and you’ll immediately spot that the Discovery is not an inexpensive car to buy outright, but it does have strong resale values on its side. Most people buy cars on finance these days, and comparable specs, the Discovery is about on par with its BMW and Mercedes rivals. Best of the bunch is the Volvo XC90 which significantly undercuts the Disco.
Land Rover Discovery Model History
Current Land Rover Discovery model history
- September 2016 – Land Rover unveils its fifth-generation Discovery, revealing its pricing and spec details, and opening the order books.
- March 2017 – Land Rover Discovery 5 goes on sale in the UK with a starting price of £43,495. Model line-up looks like this: S, SE, HSE, HSE Luxury and First Edition. Engine line-up is SD4 (240hp), TD6 (258hp), and Si6 (340hp).
- September 2017 – The Discovery SVX unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show to go on sale immediately in the UK. It gets a 5.0-litre supercharged engine developing 525hp, increased ride height and other off-road-focused equipment. It's built at the company's SVO operation in Coventry.
- September 2017 – The 300hp Si4 petrol version joins the range.
- December 2017 – Order books open on the Land Rover Discovery Commercial, with first deliveries taking place in June 2018. Maximum boot capacity is 1,856 litres, and towing capacity is 3.5 tonnes.
- January 2019 – Land Rover Discovery Anniversary Edition launched. It celebrates the car's 30th birthday, and is based on the SD6 SE, with a production run of 400 for UK customers only.
In an attempt to thoroughly confuse matters, what was launched as the L319-generation Discovery was actually sold under three slightly different names, hence why sometimes these models are also referred to as the fourth- and fifth-generation.
First to appear in 2004 was the Land Rover Discovery 3, featuring perpendicular styling that was a radical departure from the two generations before it.
Despite the new bodywork, complete with an asymmetrical horizontally split tailgate and a spare wheel mounted underneath the car, it was still a traditional SUV with the passenger cell mounted onto a separate chassis.
Remarkably off-road, it proved to be a significant step ahead of its forebears on-road, too. Power came from either a 2.7-litre diesel V6 or a 4.4-litre petrol V8, the latter especially having an eye-watering thirst.
Come the mid-life facelift in 2009, the petrol engine was dropped and a larger 3.0-litre diesel gradually replaced the 2.7-litre, initially badged as the TDV6 and later as the more powerful SDV6.
Aesthetically speaking, the lights front and rear were modernised, becoming LED-heavy, while the interior was uplifted and made to feel more upmarket. Heralding these changes, a name-change to Land Rover Discovery 4 accompanied the modifications.
More was to come, though, as the SUV was facelifted again towards the end of 2013 and renamed simply as Land Rover Discovery – this time with the model name replacing that of its maker across the front-edge of the bonnet.
Find out what drivers of the L319-generation Discovery think of their cars with our owners’ reviews and find used examples for sale.
Second-generation Land Rover Discovery (1998-04)
Developed during BMW’s ownership of Land Rover, the second-generation Discovery – or L318 to give it its internal designation – was a significant reengineering of the original. That being the case, the windows, roof and side-hinged tailgate door were carried over, but everything else was either new or significantly overhauled.
Strangely, although many of these cars were badged Land Rover Discovery Series II, none of the brand’s contemporary publicity material referred to it as a second-generation car.
Unlike the original, seven-seater versions’ rearmost seats now faced forwards, for improved safety and comfort, but otherwise its practicality remained the same, albeit in a plusher cabin, but not remotely encroaching on Range Rover levels of luxury.
Power came from a noisy-but-reasonably economical five-cylinder Td5 diesel or a 4.0-litre V8 petrol, which was very refined, but ruinous to run.
First-generation Land Rover Discovery (1989-98)
Filling the chasm between the agricultural Defender (still called Ninety and One-Ten at the time) and the grand Range Rover, was the first Discovery – or Project Jay as it was known during its development.
Using proven mechanical and platform components from elsewhere in the range, the Mk1 Discovery had its bodywork placed on top of a separate chassis for superior off-road driving.
Originally launched as a three-door SUV, it was joined by a five-door version – which proved more popular – in 1990.
Those early models might have looked unremarkable outside, but the interiors were a breath of fresh air with glassy a Conran Design cabin finished in light blue or beige and seating for up to seven people – the rearmost seats cleverly folded into the walls of the boot with their occupants facing each other. Sadly they weren’t all that spacious.
Cars from 1993 were lightly facelifted with a 2.0-litre petrol engine joining the range alongside frequently improved versions of the 2.5-litre Tdi diesel and a 3.5-litre petrol V8.